Timepieces associated with historical figures are highly sought after horological treasures. In this article, I would like to enlighten about a real horological treasure with an amazing history, an Omega chronograph worn by Thomas Edward Lawrence, British archaeologist, officer and writer known as Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935).
The subject timepiece is a manual wound, large sized (46mm case) solid silver military chronograph wristwatch with single olive-shaped pink gold pusher at 6’o clock. In November 2000, Omega Museum acquired this timepiece during Antiquorum Geneva “100 Years of Wristwatches” auction* for CHF 86,000.
This watch was made in 1912 and carried a guarantee certificate issued in 1933 following an overhaul or repair. The name written on this guarantee certificate is T.E. Shaw, which is actually a pseudonym, used by Thomas Edward Lawrence during his military service.
The caseback of this Omega chronograph engraved with an “A” for Aviation and the “Broad Arrow”, are symbols of the British Army in which Lawrence firstly served in 1914, as an interpreter and second lieutenant, and a second time incognito upon his return from Arabia on August 30, 1922 under the name of John Hume Ross, as a mechanic with the Royal Air Force.
Lawrence enlisted a third time on February 23, 1923 changing his pseudonym to T. E. Shaw, which is why the guarantee slip dated April 18, 1933 (issued after a revision) included with this chronograph is made out in the name of T.E. Shaw and not in the name of the writer of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The chronograph-wristwatch houses the calibre 18”’ P CHRO featuring 17 jewels, lever escapement, cut bimetallic balance and Breguet balance spring.
Its enamel dial features 1/5 second minute track, hollow Arabic numerals with inner 13-24 in red, small seconds at nine o’clock, 15-minute totalizer at 3 o’clock and blued steel Empire hands. The lentil-shaped 925 sterling silver case has a red gilt chronograph mono-push-button at 6 o’clock, and the caseback is with hinge, Louis XV crown, curved loops.
The sewn “two leather straps” is closed by a silver buckle. The serial number 4’428’513 engraved on the movement identifies this chronograph wristwatch as ordered on September 23, 1915 by France or one of its colonies, while the serial number 4’789’732 on its caseback refers to a standard 17”’ hunting type pocket watch ordered on September 1912 by the Omega agent Joseph Sewill of Liverpool.
The interior of the case back was enlarged in order to fit the case-middle size of the 18”’ chronograph. Its dust-protective double back cover was eliminated to allow this replacement back, flatter than the original one, to snap when closing.
There are some unanswered mysteries associated with this timepiece.
Firstly, still it is not known about when, how and why a British army agent acquired a chronograph wristwatch actually supplied to France or one of its colonies. Secondly the reason behind the replacement of original case back by one of another model is not yet known.
Also there are no records available for why this watch was not engraved with the symbols of the Royal Air Force at that time (Initials AM for Air Ministry with a crown on top) but with those of the Royal Flying Corps established on April 13, 1912 and replaced by the RAF on April 1, 1918?
The watch is presently displayed at Omega Museum in Switzerland along with other historical Omega watches.
[*Auction details: https://catalog.antiquorum.swiss/en/lots/omega-lot-66-8?page=0]